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8.21a Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter covers direct work and life story work with children and young people. It includes when life story work should begin for children and young people where adoption or long term fostering has been identified, who should undertake it, what should be covered and when the life story book should be transferred to the adopters.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

  • Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, Regulation 13 and 35;
  • Adoption and Children Act 2002 Guidance (2011), Chapter 2 and Chapter 5, paragraphs 48 to 50;
  • Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011, Standard 2.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was added to this manual in September 2017. It replaced a previous chapter entitled Preparing a Child for Permanent Placement.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Principles of Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People
  3. Direct Work Procedures
  4. Life Story Work Procedures
  5. Preparing Children and Young People for Long Term Fostering
  6. Preparing Children and Young People for Adoption
  7. Adoption Panel’s Expectations
  8. Preparing the Child or Young Person Once Prospective Adopters have been Identified and Matched
  9. Transferring the Life Story Book to the Adoptive Family
  10. Sources of Future information
  11. Bibliography

    Appendix A: Principles of Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People

    Appendix B: Understanding and Telling

    Appendix C: Checklist for Life Story Work


1. Introduction

Supporting Children and Young People through the process of expressing their thoughts and feelings, understanding what is happening to them and their family as part of Children’s Services involvement and what will happen to them in the future should be part of the care planning process, whether the child or young person is subject to a child in need plan, child protection plan, looked after or going through the adoption process, as all of this informs their life story. This may be accomplished via the use of effective Direct Work and Life Story Work.

Terminology

When discussing this area of work a number of terms tend to be used interchangeably, although they describe quite different activities. The following definitions attempt to differentiate between these terms for greater clarity:

Direct work” - this describes working face-to-face with a child using a variety of methods, according to the age, level of understanding and preference of the child. The focus can be on any subject. Methods include play, story books, picture cards, photos, jig-saws, drawing, puppets, toys, videos, workbooks, family trees, eco maps, timelines, CD-Roms etc.

Life story work” means telling the story of a child’s life history to enable the child to understand their past. In the majority of situations this will involve direct work with the child, in an age-appropriate way.

The “life story book” is the means of recording information about the child’s past in an accessible way for the child. It will include both photos and narratives, which the child is comfortable with. For the majority of children this could be the tangible outcome of life story work. For those children who cannot be engaged in direct work (mainly the under 2s) the book will be prepared on their behalf for the future.

For children and young people where the permanency plan includes long term fostering in a fostering placement, residential, etc. the parameters of what to include in the chosen format (book, folder, etc.) is decided upon by the child and the practitioner together.

Life Story Book 1 and 2 (templates) are usually prepared for children whose permanency plan is adoption.

Photos should be stored in Memory Boxes. Any photos included in the life story books (other than the child’s photos of them alone) should be agreed upon during supervision between the practitioner and line manager to determine suitability based on any risks involved with including photos (e.g. photos which may triggers memories of a traumatic event).


2. Principles of Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People

Direct Work:

  • Provides children with an opportunity to express their feelings about significant events that have occurred and gain some understanding of these events;
  • Helps children put the past in perspective;
  • Helps children to be comfortable with their current situation and to gain an understanding of why they live where they do;
  • Enables children to participate in the planning process as the social worker shares plans for the future with them and ascertain their views of those plans;
  • May enhance the child’s attachment to current family members; and
  • Can prepare them for transition to a new family.

Direct Work with Children and Young People Subject to Child in Need Plans and Child Protection Plans

Children subject to Child in Need Plans and Child Protection Plan are generally living with their family at home. It is important to help children and young people understand what is happening to them and why. They require an avenue to express their views, wishes and feelings regarding the social worker’s involvement, how they and their family are functioning, and receive support to feel confident about their future, which may include the process of exploring their memories of events, helping children to ‘process’ traumatic experiences and helping with social aspects of the child’s life (Shemmings and Rhodes 2012).

Direct Work with Children and Young People Living Temporarily in Foster Placements or Residential Care

Children and young people not living with their birth families temporarily will need support when working through with their thoughts, feelings and emotions about living apart from their families, adjusting to a new environment, coping with day to day living and working through their transition back home, if this is the plan.

If the decision is in the best interest of the child or young person to remain in their foster placement or residential care home on a long term basis then Life Story Work, should be initiated.

Why is Life Story Work Important?

Children who live with their birth families have many opportunities to know their past and to clarify past and present events. However, children separated from their birth families are often denied these opportunities; they may have changed families, social workers, schools, homes, and moved away from familiar neighbourhoods and communities. Children who lose track of their past and who are confused about the present are likely to find it difficult to develop emotionally and socially. They will struggle to develop a secure understanding of who they are, have difficulty in developing secure attachments to other adults, and may get ‘stuck’ in damaging fantasies they form to make sense of their confusion.

Effective Direct Work and Life Story Work requires planning and consideration of the child’s background, their needs, thoughts, feelings and level of understanding. Practitioners should also be mindful of the importance of utilising resources available such as records to provide background information, support from the process of supervision in managing their own feelings and experiences when facilitating direct work with children and young people and being mindful of responding to verbal and non-verbal cues displayed by the child or young person, choosing a suitable environment, etc. See Appendix A: Principles of Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People for more information.


3. Direct Work Procedures

Initiating Direct Work

When agreeing the CIN, CP or CLA plan objectives with children, young people and their families, practitioners should discuss the purpose of direct work and the possible methods that may be used to carry out that work with them (e.g. observation, discussion, activities, etc.…). In addition to how the direct work will be carried out, it would be beneficial to inform the child, young person and their family about what topics may be brought up (e.g. objectives within care plan including reason for social services involvement, substance misuse, domestic violence, education, etc.…). This will provide clarity for the family in terms of how the practitioner plans to assist them and what to expect during visits.

When undertaking direct work, the child’s Social Worker will need to:

  • Introduce direct work to parents and encourage them to engage;
  • For children Looked After ask foster carers to contribute to Life Story materials at an early stage;
  • Listen to the child’s wishes and feelings regarding their readiness to undertake direct work and life story work;
  • Listen to the child’s perception about their own situation;
  • Communicate clearly and simply using concepts which are likely to be familiar to this particular child;
  • Ask the child for feedback to confirm whether the child has understood what has been said;
  • Give the child opportunity to ask questions as often as he/she wishes;
  • Reinforce the positives in the child’s life;
  • Help the Looked After child to develop a simple script that can be used to explain to others why they are not living with their birth parents. Ensure that this is agreed with their current carers and any other significant persons;
  • Use tools such as memory boxes, story books, puzzles, picture cards, Eco Maps, etc…;
  • Ensure case records indicate that Direct Work has been carried out (by using the case note heading ‘Direct Work’) and add copies of activities to Livelink.

Ceasing Direct Work

Whether the child or young person is living at home with their families, living with foster parents or in a residential care home temporarily, when children’s services ceases involvement, the direct work objectives should be reviewed to determine the extent of any changes made or if there is any ongoing support required to address unresolved issues. When the time comes for Children’s Services to end involvement it would be envisaged that the direct work conducted with children, young people and their families will support them in maintaining their progress as a family.

While conducting direct work the ending of that needs to be considered throughout and planned for.

If the direct work ends in an unexpected way, for example a child on a child in need plan and consent is withdrawn, then the child, young person and their family may not experience closure. In such instances practitioners should consider sending information, along with the closure letter, reviewing the positive goals obtained via the direct work that was conducted and include a reminder of any outstanding objectives and who they may contact if they wish to have further support.

For children and young people not ceasing direct work as they will remain in placement on a long term basis or there is a plan for adoption, their care plan should reflect the addition of Life Story Work.


4. Life Story Work Procedures

Initiating Life Story Work

Life Story Work should support the child’s understanding of their life story from the time they make contact with Children’s Services.

Even children as young as 2 or 3 can be given simple explanations which will help to prepare the child should reunification not be possible.

Through Direct Work children are helped to have a basic understanding of why they came into care and the decisions made in respect of them thus the transition into life story work forms a logical progression at the point where it becomes clear that the child is unlikely to return home. This marks the beginning of the first phase of life story work, which helps the child to understand the reasons why they are unable to return home and to express their feelings about this.

When the CLA Review confirms that the child’s permanence plan should be adoption or long term fostering, the Team Manager, in conjunction with the Social Worker during supervision, should outline plans for the ongoing development of life story work and Life Story Books.

The pace, progress and timing of life story work must be consistent with other processes that are underway, particularly the Court and Adoption Panel processes. However, even if direct work with the child is not possible at certain times, it will still be possible to plan the next phase of work and gather the information that will be needed. Appendix B: Understanding and Telling provides useful guidance on telling the child about the past and the child’s understanding, both related to the child’s age and stage of development.

Who Should Undertake Life Story Work

Life story work is based on a relationship, and should not be seen as simply completing a task.

Children in foster care and adoption are on a journey and many parts of it are difficult. They need to feel that someone is with them on that journey and they need a framework to help them think about it and feel safe” (Schofield, G. and Beek, M. 2006).

The Child’s Social Worker / Children’s Practitioner / Support Worker is responsible for ensuring the work is done, and in most cases will be the person who has the quality of relationship with the child which makes them the appropriate person to do that work. However, there may be circumstances in which the work can be usefully delegated to or shared with a colleague or other worker who is trusted by the child. Overall, the child’s social worker remains responsible for coordinating the life story work. This should be discussed in supervision sessions, where it should be accorded some priority given its importance in supporting the child to move on. Detailed discussion should also form part of the Looked After Review.

Workers undertaking life story work should be skilled in working directly with children Their role is to create a secure base for the child to explore their past, present and future. If the child’s worker is taking the lead, this will be part of the continuum of ongoing work with the child. If another worker is to be involved, this will be a discrete piece of work which will need to be managed and supervised throughout.

In addition to practitioners, other professionals are also a valuable resource in working in conjunction with the lead practitioner in contributing to life story work such as Student Social Workers, Family Centre Workers, Nurseries, Foster Carers, etc. by providing information, photographs they have taken, memorabilia through activities conducted with the child, etc. For a table of examples of information that can be provided by various professionals, see Appendix C: Checklist for Life Story Work.

Collecting Memorabilia

From the time a child has contact with Children’s Services, the collection of information (e.g. genograms, photos, family background, etc.) through the assessment and planning process should support the child’s understanding of their life story thus far, and this information would contribute to any life story work taking place in the future. If this information and memorabilia is lost, it may never be regained for the child. Birth families, all workers involved in the child’s journey should take responsibility and have a role in collecting memorabilia of all significant events/achievements for the child. This information should be recorded for the child, and any memorabilia given to the child (or held in safekeeping by the carers according to the child’s age and understanding).

Foster carers are often in the best position to gather information about the child’s daily life and significant events. For example:

  • Hospital birth tags etc. (newborn babies);
  • Developmental milestones;
  • Health records, illness, injuries, accidents;
  • Favourite activities and achievements;
  • Birthdays and religious celebrations;
  • Holidays;
  • Special friends;
  • Pets;
  • Photos of significant people e.g. birth family, friends from their community, foster carers and their homes;
  • ‘Funny’ moments caught on photograph;
  • Photos, anecdotes, stories about birth family contact;
  • School reports;
  • Special activities at school e.g. sports day;
  • Educational achievements e.g. Certificates;
  • Special interests e.g. Scouts, sports or leisure activities (certificates, photos etc.);
  • Church, religious activities and significant events.

Involvement of Other Agencies

Looked after children may have many adults and professionals involved in their lives and before beginning life story work it is essential to be aware of any other agency that is currently working with the child to both support the child and contribute to the child’s life story work.

Careful and sensitive consideration must be given to the impact on the child (and the child’s carers) of beginning life story work.

It is vital to understand the focus of the work being undertaken by the other agency/organisation, the basis and timescale for their involvement, and how appropriately this sits alongside the proposed life story work. Therefore it is important that contributions from other agencies are agreed upon and incorporated in to the care plan and discussed as part of the CLA Review process.

Identity and Diversity Issues

Life story work is fundamental to the formation of a positive sense of identity. Fostered and adopted children may have a number of difficulties in accepting and valuing themselves, and this can be compounded by the sense of difference some children will feel as a result of their ethnicity, religion, disability etc. It is therefore essential that the work that is done acknowledges difference and values this as fundamental to who the child is. The social worker should consider the most appropriate way to achieve this.

The starting point for exploring the child’s identity should be what the child knows and understands about their origins, and how they perceive themselves.

After this, comes the way in which the child is perceived by others, particularly by their carer and any siblings.

The way in which the child is perceived and treated by other adults and children in different settings, especially school, should also be explored.

It is important to acknowledge that many children still experience stigmatisation as a result of being looked after, which can be compounded by responses to their “difference”, whether covert or overt.

Where there is uncertainty about the racial heritage of a child which cannot be resolved, it is important to acknowledge this in the work that is done. Workers should provide information to the child about the various possibilities.

A child’s racial heritage may be quite complex. A key message that has emerged in practice is that workers should never presume a child is of white British origin. A child may have a black father, but present as white, for example. It is also noted that greater numbers of children from Eastern European backgrounds are present in the general population and may come to be represented in the looked after population.

Where the child has some level of learning disability, careful thought will need to be given to the implications this will have on undertaking life story work, considering in particular the most effective methods of communication. This will be based on a clear and informed assessment of the child’s level of understanding and ability. It is almost inevitable that this will involve others who know the child well and can support the work. Practitioners should make efforts to communicate with children utilising a variety of methods appropriate for their needs to ensure inclusion (e.g. Makaton, sign language, pictures, iPad, etc…).

Consideration must also be given for life story work with unaccompanied minors and asylum seeking children They may become looked after with minimal to no ties with their birth family. Practitioners need to consider contacting the Embassy of the young person’s country of origin in order to gather information about the young person and their family to help to understand their life history.

The use of interpreting services should also be considered to ensure effective communication.


5. Preparing Children and Young People for Long Term Fostering

The decision for Long Term Fostering as a means of permanency needs to be formally agreed and included in the care plan (see Long Term Fostering Procedure) and Life Story Work should be included within their care plan (see also Life Story Books Guidance for Long Term Fostering).


6. Preparing Children and Young People for Adoption

Once the agency has agreed adoption as the preferred permanence option, and the court has made a Care Order, the main focus of direct work with the child will change to preparation for adoption. Although the agency will be unable to place the child with prospective adopters until authority to place has been obtained through a Placement Order or formal parental consent, direct work should begin to focus on the meaning of adoption.

The work already undertaken (including direct work and life story work) is essential prerequisites to allow preparation for adoption to begin (see also Life Story Books Guidance) (for adoption).

The chapter on Life Story Book 1 and Book 2 includes the following information.

  • Introduction to Life Story Books;
  • Timescales;
  • Guidance on what to consider When Preparing Life Story Books;
  • The Layout of Life Story Books;
  • Template Examples of Book 1 and Book 2;
  • Consultation Information and Resources.

See also Section 9, Transferring the Life Story Book to the Adoptive Family.

Regulation 13 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 requires the agency to:

  • Provide a counselling service for the child;
  • Explain to the child in an appropriate manner the procedures for and the legal implications of adoption;
  • Provide the child with appropriate written information about the above matters as relevant; and
    • Ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings regarding;
    • The possibility of placement for adoption with a new family;
    • His religious and cultural upbringing; and
    • Contact with his parent or guardian or other relative, or with any other person the agency considers relevant.

Statutory Guidance on Adoption 2013 (Chapter 2 paras 2.16 – 2.21) develops the following ideas as follows:

Counselling

The child should be helped to understand:

  • What adoption would mean for him or her now and in the longer term;
  • Why the agency considers they should not stay with their own family or short term current carer, and why adoption is the preferred option for their permanence;
  • The implications of adoption on their contact with parents, other family members and others.

Information

Verbal information should be shared in a way which takes account of a range of possible factors, including:

  • The child’s first language;
  • Communication or learning impairments;
  • Religious beliefs or other values.

Written information should also be provided about the process and meaning of adoption. The children’s guide, “Understanding Adoption” should be used in work with children who have a permanence plan of adoption located within the Virtual Library - Direct Work Tools (within the Life Story Work sections of each age group).

Diversity and Family Structures

When preparing the child for adoption, it is important to recognise that there are all sorts of families and therefore talking to a child about having a “new Mummy and Daddy” should be avoided. It is more appropriate to talk in terms of having a “new family” with some explanation being given to the different sorts of families that exist.

Establishing the Child’s Views

It is important that the child’s wishes and feelings are sought, recorded and taken into consideration at every stage.


7. Adoption Panel’s Expectations

At the “plan” stage, it is important that the Child’s Permanence Report provides a clear and detailed explanation of what life story work has already been completed, what remains to be done, who will be responsible for this, and within what timescale. The Adoption Panel may well ask for clarification, in terms of how long it will be before active family finding can begin.

At the “matching” stage the Adoption Panel will expect an update on the progress of life story work and to see what has been produced so far in terms of a life story book.

See Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker's Decision Procedure.


8. Preparing the Child or Young Person Once Prospective Adopters have been Identified and Matched

Once the agency has approved the placement of the child with specific adopters, preparation needs to focus on a new phase of direct work with the child. This will include the following:

  • Identifying any further work that might need to be done in relation to the child saying “goodbye” to birth parents or other birth family members;
  • Identifying any work that needs to be completed in relation to the current plans for contact with birth parents or other birth family members or any other people;
  • Helping the child to express what s/he feels about leaving the current carer;
  • Recognising that the child may be concerned about what the birth parent/s or other members of the birth family may feel about them moving to an adoptive family;
  • Helping the child to express what they feel excited or worried about;
  • Helping the child to think about what it is important to take with them from the current placement;
  • Giving the child details/information about the adopters in a way that they can understand, e.g. a “family book” with photographs and other material prepared by the adopter/s;
  • Helping the child to ask any questions they may have about the proposed adopter/s and to think about their feelings;
  • Informing the child about the visits of introduction that are planned;
  • Informing the child about the proposed timescales for introductions, overnight stays and finally moving in.

It is the agency’s expectation that the book will be available to the child and prospective adopters at the point of placement. Children will often ask questions or make comments about their history in the early stages of placement, and prospective adopters need to have the life story book to help them try to explain.

If this is not available at the point of placement, the Adoption Placement Plan must record the date by which the life story book should be completed, and this should be monitored at subsequent reviews. Prospective adopters will have grounds for complaint if the life story book is unreasonably delayed.


9. Transferring the Life Story Book to the Adoptive Family

The agency’s policy is that the life story book one should be available when the child is placed for adoption. The ideal time to transfer the book to the prospective adopters is during the period of introductions. The draft life story book 2 should be given to the adopters by the second adoption review meeting and the completed life story book 2 should be provided within 10 working days (or soon after if possible) of the adoption ceremony, i.e. the ceremony to celebrate the making of the adoption order.

Team Manager to ensure cases are not closed until after the Later Life Letter and Life Story Books are completed and provided.

When the life story book has been completed in draft, the child’s social worker should share this with the prospective adopters’ worker. A joint visit should then be arranged to go through the book with the prospective adopters. This is important to ensure that they are aware of the information it contains and the style of presentation. They should be invited to comment on this so that when the final book is produced they are fully committed to using it with their adopted child and allowing the child free access to it.

Once this is available, the child’s worker should deliver the book to the adoptive family and go through it with the child and prospective adopters together, where the child is of an appropriate age to do so. This ensures that the child knows that the book is available, where it will be kept and how it can be accessed. It also means that the child is aware that the prospective adopters know about the child’s past and there are no secrets.

Within 10 days (or as soon as possible) of the Adoption Celebration Hearing, the case record of the child should be closed.


10. Sources of Future information

Preparation for adoption is a time-specific aspect of direct work with children, but life story work is an ongoing process which precedes this phase and also continues after placement for adoption. The life story book has the effect of freezing time, and adoptive parents will find it necessary to re-interpret the child’s past as the child grows older, more questioning and more able to understand the circumstances of their adoption. The tools available to adopters to assist in this process are:

  • Child’s Permanence Report - prepared at the stage of identifying adoption as the preferred option for permanence. Given to the prospective adopters when considering the placement;
  • Later Life Letter - prepared at the stage of placement. Given to the prospective adopters at the point of the adoption order.

When completing the above reports consideration should be made as to the impact the information may have in the future as one of the functions of such reports is to act as “a source of important information for the adopted adult about their life history and heritage”.

Child’s Permanency Reports and Later Life Letters need to be child-centred.

Further detailed guidance can be found in Later Life Letters Guidance.


11. Bibliography

Guide to Confident Direct Work with Children
(Yvonne Shemmings and Honor Rhodes, Community Care Inform, 2012)

“Making Life Story Books” – Tony Ryan and Rodger Walker

“A Child’s Journey Through Placement” by Vera Fahlberg

Talking Pictures – BAAF

“Techniques for Working with Children: 1- Pat Owen and Pat Curtis, C.M.C.V.S Print Service, St Thomas Centre, Ardwick Green North, Manchester

Resources – Children’s pack for panel and adoption available from the Adoption Team

Attachment handbook for foster care and adoption.
(Schofield, G. and Beek, M. BAAF, 2006)

Life Story Work: a practical guide to helping children understand their past.
(Ryan, T. and Walker, R. BAAF, 2003)

Preparing children for permanence: A guide to undertaking direct work for social workers, foster carers and adoptive parents.
(Mary Romaine, with Tricia Turley and Non Tuckey, BAAF 2007)

10 Top Tips for Placing Children.
(Argent, H. BAAF, 2006)


Appendix A: Principles of Direct Work and Life Story Work with Children and Young People

Preparation

  • Have a clear and purposeful plan to carry out direct work and life story work. Details of how the interventions will support meeting the child’s needs should be included in care plans;
  • Consider the child’s developmental level and remember some children may operate at a level below their chronological age due to learning disability or being “stuck” emotionally. (See Resource Pack - Summaries of Child Development and also Vera Fahlberg, Child Development Workbook 1998 - BAAF);
  • Be aware of cultural factors and research these e.g. race, religion, identity issues, different family and community norms;
  • Check your records, and your knowledge of background information and gather material on important events, the child’s life, their family names, pets etc.
  • Consult and share at all stages of the work with the child’s carer and the supervising social worker. The foster carer should be informed of how and when the work will be done, and ask the child if he/she would like the foster carer present at each session. Foster carers will be able to provide emotional support for the child during and between sessions, so their close involvement is crucial. The work may be painful for the child, so prepare for this, as the carer will have to support the child following the session and they need to be aware of what occurred if they were not present during the session;
  • Recognise your own feelings about personal experiences of loss and separation, grief and rejection as these may be triggered for you in your work with the child. Acknowledge these feelings and be aware of them to avoid them blocking you helping the child;
  • Discuss the progress of your work in regular supervision with your line manager where appropriate advice and guidance should be given. Supervision is also an appropriate place to explore any personal feelings about the information you need to share with the child about their past as well as a way to gaining feedback regarding ongoing development of skills to support the child.

Do...

  • Get to know the child as well as possible and develop a friendly, trusting relationship (e.g. building rapport, providing undivided attention, refraining from use of Jargon, being clear with intentions, stick to planned visits, be reliable, etc…);
  • Be clear with the foster carer that the focus of the visit is to undertake life story work, to avoid being side-tracked into discussing day-to-day placement issues;
  • Do the work in a safe, comfortable environment and work physically on the child’s level (e.g. usually on the floor);
  • Respect the child’s ability to solve problems and make choices (this may include not wishing to do a particular part of the work at any one time because they are not ready). Being flexible with the agenda for the session and working at the child’ pace would be beneficial;
  • Find out what the child can do well or what she/he enjoys. This will give them confidence, but give them the opportunity to try something new, and remember that children can also express themselves in play what they can’t express in words;
  • Check out your perceptions. They may not be the same as the child’s. Acknowledge the child’s feelings and give feedback of observations to the child;
  • Respect confidences and be aware of what disclosures may need to be passed on. Explain why to the child;
  • Be alert to non-verbal responses, e.g. body language, talking in ‘third party’, eye contact etc.
  • Be prepared to go over things several times and in different ways, to convey the same message. Children don’t always ‘hear’ things first time, particularly if it is painful.


Appendix B: Understanding and Telling

Understanding and Telling

Pre-verbal Stage

Children at this stage:

  • Begin to understand language before speech develops;
  • Begin to process information;
  • Need to hear and become familiar with the word “adoption”, leading to emotional acceptance of adoption and greater receptiveness to more complex information later on.

2 - 6 Years

Most pre-school age children do not understand much about adoption even though told they are adopted. They may use the word in referring to themselves, but they often confuse being born with being adopted.

Children at this stage:

  • Are egocentric and can’t see another’s point of view;
  • Can’t handle too many bits of information all at once;
  • Think they are responsible for everything that happens (magical thinking);
  • Have a different concept of time to adults;
  • Don’t understand relationships;
  • Find greater significance in where they live and who cares for them;
  • Don’t distinguish between the parental (caring) role and the parental (birth) relationship.

Children may respond to a simple story from their point of view, which concentrates on the here and now.

6 - 8 Years

Children at this stage:

  • Understand the difference between adoption and birth as alternative ways of entering a family;
  • Accept adoption as permanent, but don’t understand why;
  • This acceptance relies on “blind faith” (e.g. because Mummy says so”).

Children are likely to accept their story without question and accept the basic explanations provided.

8 - 10 Years

Children at this stage:

  • Develop a more sophisticated understanding of adoption;
  • Can see things from other people’s point of view;
  • Can see other sides to a story and consider alternatives;
  • Can distinguish between perception and reality;
  • May begin to recognise the loss of their birth family and grieve;
  • May begin to question the permanence of adoption, thinking birth parents may re-claim or adoptive parents give them up;
  • May regress to an earlier stage of development as they struggle to deal with more complex thoughts and the fear that this may not be permanent;
  • Children’s understanding of adoption increases, resulting in more questions, which need more detailed answers and may become more challenging. Children need reassurance from their adoptive parents that they are here to stay.

10 - 13 Years

Children at this stage:

  • Begin to grasp the concept that there was a legal process involved with their adoption;
  • Are still unsure about why this has made their adoption permanent.

13 Years +

Children appreciate that adoption involves the legal transfer of parental responsibility, with all the rights and responsibilities this entails, from their birth parents to their adoptive parents.


Appendix C: Checklist for Life Story Work.

Click here to view Appendix C: Checklist for Life Story Work.

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